Updated: Oct 12
✦ Travel writer Susie Boswell discovers a whole new -affordable - destination since Bonza began flights into and out of Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.
Saturday 23 December: Love Actually scored for a symphony orchestra
It’s been bonzer! Overwhelming support for Bonza Airlines has defied the sceptics and seen the budget newcomer boost its schedule between Melbourne and Port Macquarie by 50 per cent – from flights twice weekly to now hosting return services three times a week.
Once, visiting Melbourne was a formidable logistical and financial commitment – either a marathon drive including, ideally, an overnight stop each way, or two very expensive flights, transiting Sydney, to reach the Victorian capital. Now, it’s a hop of 90 minutes or so, at fares as low as a mere $69.
But it’s not only flights that are achievable within a realistic budget: Susie has sourced a number of excellent hotels offering exceptional rates for visitors to enjoy the city’s blockbuster attractions. Here, ten suggestions to open up your top Melbourne experience.
First, book early to secure your seats, at the best price. On the Bonza app, or via a travel agent.
Timetable until the end of October: Sundays – ex MEL 1045, ex PQQ (Port Macquarie) 1325. Mondays – ex MEL 1235, ex PQQ 1515. Thursdays – ex MEL 1205, ex PQQ 1445.
Sunday flights end on October 29, replaced by a Saturday service from the following weekend, November 4.
The schedule becomes: Saturdays – ex MEL 1220, ex PQQ 1450. Mondays – ex MEL 1220, ex PQQ 1450. Thursdays – ex MEL 1150, ex PQQ 1420.
Bonza’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft seat 186; passenger loads have been healthy, mostly near maximum or entirely at capacity. That’s why services have been increased. So it’s important to nab your forward and return flights before booking accommodation.
Understand that fares are dynamic: that means they fluctuate depending on demand and availability. Bonza says: “It sounds obvious, but book early to get a great price. It’s worth considering when you fly, with prices typically lower on Christmas Day, New Years Eve, Tuesday afternoons and Saturday evenings.” Some of the best-priced holiday season flights are from 8 January, with many routes less than $100 a person one way.
Recently, Bonza Holidays was launched: all-inclusive deals over the summer peak period. Before school goes back in late January there’s a seven-night holiday ex Sunshine Coast at luxury 5-star Cairns hotel Crystalbrook Bailey selling at time of going to press for just $1031pp. Bonza Holidays include flights, accommodation, pick seats, 23kg checked, 8kg cabin baggage.
2. 2023 MELBOURNE CUP
On Tuesday November 7. As usual, this year the “race that stops a nation” is featuring a number of notable overseas guests - and that’s not just the New Zealand, Irish and Middle Eastern bloodstock.
The twin cousins of princes William and Harry, Lady Eliza Spencer and Lady Amelia Spencer, will be Victoria Racing Club’s Ambassadors for The Melbourne Cup Carnival.
The pair, both models, follow their older sister, Lady Kitty Spencer, previously a guest at the Cup, invited to judge the glamorous Fashions on the Field competition, now in its 60th year. The four categories are Best Dressed, Best Suited, the Millinery Award, and Emerging Designer Award.
The competition’s prize pool is an astonishing $350,000-plus. But that’s not the least of the surprises. This year, national and international digital entries will be encouraged! Fashionistas don’t even need to set foot in Australia, let alone on the Flemington race track, to enter. Following submissions of images of their favourite racewear look (that closed earlier this month), an overseas entrant selected in each of the Best Dressed and Best Suited categories will be flown to Melbourne to compete in the final judging, along with three other competitors similarly chosen from around Australia.
There’s more: don’t assume Best Dressed will be a lady and Best Suited a chap. Best Dressed could well be a chap in a kilt and Best Suited a woman in a pants suit. Winners paraded and awarded on Oaks Day, Thursday 9 November.
And let’s not forget the horseflesh! The Cup Carnival comprises: Victoria Derby Day, Saturday 4/10; the Cup; Oaks Day; and Champions Stakes Day on Saturday 11/11.
There’s no need to break the bank to secure excellent hotel accommodation in Melbourne. The two hotels previewed here have been offered at rates from as low as $174 a night in cooler months and off-peak times: I’ve listed typical prices at time of going to press. As with air fares, understand that hotel prices are dynamic: that is, they’ll vary according to factors such as the season, demand, special events.
What a find this one is! Premium accommodation in the heart of the city: Vibe Hotel Melbourne, with a fab location on Flinders and Queen Streets mid-CBD and knockout views over the Yarra River and city, with rates (at time of press) of from $219 and a monthly average from just $207. The restored heritage building hosts an entirely new hotel tower with every amenity including free WiFi, swimming pool, gym, interconnecting rooms (subject to availability), lobby café and bar to hop right into Melbourne’s famed nosh. Explore the city’s foodie laneways and historic arcades, all in striking distance of the hotel. See it at: https://vibehotels.com/hotel/melbourne
Also: Be charmed! Be sure to have a look at https://quincymelbourne.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/stayquincymelbourne with rates (at time of press) from around $213. Know that Quincy hotels are renowned as unique and fun. Located in the lively heart of iconic Flinders Lane, mecca of award-winning restaurants, boutique bars, galleries, fashion and street art. A 7-minute walk from Crown Casino and Convention Centre.
SAVE A FURTHER 10 PER CENT: Join TFE Hotels’ eClub for free at https://www.tfehotels.com/en/signup/ and reap a range of benefits. For best prices, always book direct at tfehotels.com
Easy on the eye, and budget: Vibe Melbourne (l) and Quincy Melbourne
ELVIS, A MUSICAL REVOLUTION, an exuberant new musical celebrating the life and music of The King, is now playing on stage at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre. Featuring 40 of his songs, it follows his life from boyhood to become the world’s most outstanding musical icon. Seats currently on sale to 26 November via Ticketmaster. elvisamusicalrevolution.com.au; #elvisrevolution; @elvis.revolution
MOULIN ROUGE: THE MUSICAL - The winner of 10 Tony awards, Baz Luhrmann’s film comes to life with glitz and glamour now on stage at the Regent Theatre in a musical extravaganza featuring more than 70 songs including everyone’s favourite “Lady Marmalade”, plus thrilling new additions. Special “singalong” performances on 21 November and 21 January. Tickets from $69 plus Ticketek fee.
MAMMA MIA! – Brimming with 22 of ABBA’s songs the musical that never tires has just opened at the Princess Theatre. Video clips of song and dance, and all information at https://mammamiathemusical.com.au/
WICKED – The blockbuster song and dance story will open at the Regent Theatre in March 2024. It’s said to be one of the most lavish productions showing outside of Broadway, with audacious costumes, set design and production. Join the waitlist for tickets now at https://wickedthemusical.com.au/
CHICAGO - The longest-running production on Broadway arrives at Her Majesty's Theatre also from March next year. With six Tony awards and a Grammy, sign up for the waitlist and news alerts at https://chicagomusical.com.au/tickets/melbourne/
5. MUSEUMS & THE ARTS
Melbourne offers a wealth of cultural and entertainment attractions, many of them entirely free of charge. For example:
ACMI - Got a gamer in the family? ACMI, formerly the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, in Federation Square, is Australia's national museum of screen culture including film, television, video games, digital culture and art. Open daily 10-5, free entry.
That’s just one example. For a stimulating list backed by vivid images, explore https://whatson.melbourne.vic.gov.au/article/free-things-to-do-in-melbourne-every-day and https://whatson.melbourne.vic.gov.au/article/free-things-to-do-with-kids-in-melbourne
ARTS CENTRE MELBOURNE is Australia's biggest and busiest performing arts venue, staging more than 4400 performances and events annually in its multiple venues. It hosts Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, Melbourne Theatre Company, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Victorian Opera and more. It’s also home to the Australian Performing Arts Collection and the Australian Music Vault and has daily guided tours, Sunday backstage tours, and a Sunday crafts market. DISCOUNTED TICKETS to a variety of shows are offered during a 12-hour window from 12 noon every Tuesday. Go to artscentremelbourne.com.au and search TIXAT12. Available across the centre’s multiple venues: State Theatre, Playhouse, Fairfax Studio and Hamer Hall, for different shows each week. Follow Arts Centre Melbourne on Instagram and Facebook. Tickets are not the only discounts: happy hour specials are offered at a bar and restaurant on site.
TITANIC: THE ARTEFACT EXHIBITION - More than 200+ genuine artefacts recovered from the 1912 shipwreck of the Titanic go on display at Melbourne Museum, Carlton, a week before Christmas, on 16 December, through Easter 2024, to the end of the Victorian Autumn school holidays on April 14 (the date it struck the iceberg). The exhibition offers the opportunity to experience life on board the vessel through full-scale recreations of the ship’s interiors such as the iconic Grand Staircase. Explore the powerful human stories of those who travelled and worked on board the ship, learn about its innovative engineering … even touch an iceberg that’s the same temperature as the freezing waters of the North Atlantic Ocean that swallowed more than 1,500 souls. Tickets from $18 - $32.50.
PHARAOH – ANCIENT EGYPT: At the NGV, National Gallery of Victoria, from Friday 14 June 2024, a massive exhibition of over 3000 years of history with more than 500 pieces on loan from the British Museum London celebrating kings and queens from Tutankhamun, Queen Nefertari, Ramses and more. Sculpture, architecture, jewellery, hieroglyphic texts, a fully intact statue of a Pharaoh and amulets, collars and rings. Including a free exhibition for kids for them to get up close to the ancient world with hands-on activities and lessons.
DINOSAURS ON THE RUN: The closest thing to a walk in Jurassic Park is Dinos Alive, featuring 80+ life-size animated dinosaurs, like Trex and seven of his mates. The all-ages exhibition features a VR experience exploring the depths of the oceans along with the creatures that called it home during the Jurassic period. Opens Wed 1 November, to late January. Fever Exhibitions Hall, Brunswick.
6. FOOD, DINING, DRINKS, SHOPPING
LOBSTER-STUFFED CROISSANTS? A WHISKY DINNER with truffled honeycomb crumpets and crab and cucumber tarts paired with Glenfiddich 23yo Grand Cru? That sounds like Melbourne! French, Nordic, Lebanese cuisine… this city offers outstanding food choices, and not all of it at scary prices.
Among countless options beyond fine dining are laneway cafes, the makings of a picnic in the Botanical Gardens – or how about a bottomless Yum Cha or endless Tex-Mex tacos? Best place to seek out food venues: https://www.theurbanlist.com/melbourne/a-list/food-and-drink-news-melbourne
SHOPPING in Melbourne is equally eclectic. For the fashion addict: boutiques, markets, discount outlets all beckon, too many to even begin listing. There are arcades, pop-ups, artisan jewellery, vintage, thrift, designer couture …
Equally, chase down footwear, accessories, decorator and home wares, department stores, entire shopping centres, health and beauty outlets, gifts, everything musical. Bourke Street Mall is a major destination in the city centre, a pedestrian-only retail and dining hub; Collins Street is known for luxury goods. Start at: www.whatson.melbourne.vic.gov.au/shop
7. SPORT: CRICKET – TENNIS
THE MCG, Melbourne Cricket Ground, is one of Victoria’s most popular visitor attractions. The cricket calendar is at https://www.mcg.org.au Not only to attend a match this Summer, seek out the G for its behind-the-scenes iconic tours that include the MCC Long room and Library, player change rooms and cricketers’ viewing rooms, media centre, portraits of Sir Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar – even optional lunch by Guy Grossi in the Committee Room.
ROD LAVER ARENA, in a historic first, will host the Australian Open in 2024 from a Sunday start, extending the tournament to a 15-day event, from Sunday 14 to Sunday 28 January. With many matches now playing longer, the move aims to alleviate the pressure of late-night finishes on both players and fans.
If you’d like to get in the mood before the Grand Slam opener, a film just opened to cinema release this month, Australia’s Open, is a documentary that will hook tennis fans in with engrossing archive footage, iconic moments, interviews with star players and how it captures the sport’s aesthetic. Featuring also tennis and tournament administrators and sports broadcasters.
8. LOVE ACTUALLY, IN CONCERT
It’s the 20th anniversary of favourite festive film and ultimate rom-com Love Actually featuring the nativity lobster and 17 hit songs by Mariah Carey, Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, Eva Cassidy, Kelly Clarkson, Dido, The Pointer sisters, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and more. Is there anything better? Well, yes, actually.
On Christmas Eve minus 1, Saturday December 23, a symphony orchestra will fill the air with an award-winning score of the movie’s soundtrack while audiences thrill to the movie projected simultaneously on a massive screen. Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Rowan Atkinson and the rest of the cast are truly larger than life.
The show is at the magnificent 2500-seat Hamer Hall at the ACM, Arts Centre Melbourne, on Southbank, just across the Yarra from Flinders Street Station. Patrons may choose from two performances, at 3.30pm and 7.30pm; follow the prompts at
https://www.loveactuallyliveinconcert.com/ to book through the ACM, or viaTicketek.com.au. See: loveactuallyliveinconcert.com; facebook.com/loveactuallyinconcert; instagram.com/loveactuallyinconcert. Ticket prices were $60.05 to $151.65 but at time of writing it looks like the cheapest seats have already been snapped up. Dress in your favourite Christmas outfit, laugh, sing and celebrate the spirit of the season.
9. MORE HOTEL OPTIONS
A second option for CBD accommodation is with the Best Western Hotels chain in centrally located properties. Price points are quoted at very low budget levels but it’s always best to check individual hotel sites for live rates on your preferred dates. Two properties here offer an ideal launchpad for guests to explore Victoria’s capital. Check websites to find facts such as if WiFi is free or for a fee, breakfast availability, services and so on.
Best Western Queen Victoria Market hotel, a new 4-star including accessible rooms, is close to the 600 traders operating in the biggest open-air markets in the southern hemisphere. Night Markets too every Wednesday from 23 November to 15 March (except 21 and 28 December). Also nearby: Melbourne Museum, Docklands, Flemington racetrack. Easy access to buses and trams around the city centre. Best Western Queen Victoria Market
Best Western Plus Travel Inn is close to historic Carlton Gardens, the Royal Exhibition Building and lively Lygon Street, famous for exceptional Italian cuisine and brimming with restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, book shops and small bars. The thoroughfare cuts through this neighbourhood for a couple of kilometres, a popular destination for visitors to Melbourne. The hotel’s guest services team can offer dining suggestions and make reservations and 24/7 reception is available for booking tours and transport. Best Western Plus Travel Inn
Best Western’s Travel Inn pool and pet-friendly Melbourne City
10. SELF CATERING – PETS – BEST INFO
SELF-CATERING apartment-hotels offer wonderful savings without compromising on the quality of your visitor experience, and at value rates. They’re one of my favourite accommodation choices: do I really want to leap into a lift, showered and fully dressed, to hit a hotel restaurant before brekkie service closes?
Far better to enjoy making my own favourites as I take in the morning news and meander to the bathroom at my leisure. It’s more economical, I enjoy my own preferences, and privacy. If it’s cold or rainy at nights, or I’m exhausted after a day’s sightseeing, it’s nice to bunker down with snack prepped in my own kitchen and re-energise for tomorrow.
Live like a local at Adina Apartment Hotel Melbourne on Flinders, near Flinders Street Station and Fed Square, an easy walk from historic arcades and laneways, cafes and boutiques. Close to major sporting venues the MCG, Rod Laver Arena and Etihad Stadium, art exhibitions and performing arts shows. Configurations of one, two and three bedrooms are offered, with a full kitchen, personal laundry, free Wifi, gym. From $197.10 (at time of press), average rates can be higher, so book direct, fast. Join eClub for 10 per cent off. Check: (03) 8663 0000; email@example.com; Res 138 642; adinahotels.com
PETS are welcome at Best Western Melbourne City Hotel. So if you happen to be driving to Melbourne, here’s the place. Pets or not, this spot is described as charming turn-of-the-century and quaint, in a tram-free zone, located near Southern Cross train station and Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. There’s a laundry service, currently quoted at $2 an item, and laundromat quoted at $4 a load. To sample rates currently from under $200: Best Western Melbourne City
RESEARCH YOUR BREAK to make the most of your budget – Melbourne has a near infinite array of attractions, many of them “pop up” events, so check what’s on during your stay. For example, a picnic-style Downtown Dumpling Market also with noodles, bao, skewers, watering holes galore and a sake bar is on for two weeks from Thurs 9 November to Sun 26 November. Some sites to check what’s on are: www.theurbanlist.com/melbourne; www.visitmelbourne.com
But for a fully comprehensive picture of what the city has to offer, don’t rely solely on hit-and-miss internet browsing. Lonely Planet’s Melbourne & Victoria guide to all the mustn’t-miss essentials is available as eBook $17.95; book $32.99; book + eBook $39.99 at https://shop.lonelyplanet.com/en-au/. It’s a great gift too, for locals considering taking Bonza to Melbourne and wider Victoria now and in the future.
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